The Eightfold Path – what Ashtanga yoga is REALLY about

Pattabhi Jois said:

“Ashtanga is a breathing practice, the rest is just bending”

Every day my understanding of Yoga, specifically Ashtanga Yoga, deepens. Every day I realise that the physical asana mean less than the spiritual path, but you can’t have one without the other!

I have been writing a manual for the retreat I am currently working at and it has helped me to remember the things I have learnt on my own personal yoga journey.

To begin to understand you must know that ‘Ashtanga’ or ‘Eight Limbs’ is based on the eightfold path set out by Patanjali in the second book of sutras, and that the first two limbs are the all important moral codes, the ‘Yamas’ and ‘Niyamas’


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I’m going to be writing a lot more about them in future posts, but here is a brief outline:


The Moral Restraints:

Ahimsa – Non-Violence – towards yourself and all others

Satya – Truthfulness – always be true to yourself and others

Asteya – Non Stealing – not just possessions but also can refer to time and attention of others.

Bramachara – Self Restraint – everything in moderation!

Aparigraha – Non-Attachment – to all things material and metaphysical



Observances of self:

Saucha – Cleanliness – an observance to show respect of yourself and others.

Santosha – Contentment – being happy with what you have

Tapas – Self Discipline – again, links with Bramachara and self-restraint

Svadhyaya – Self Study – both study of the physical and non-physical elements of yoga

Isvara-Pranidaha – Surrender/Devotion – to believe that there is something higher than yourself, even if it is just the divine self.



We then have the third limb – ASANA – the physical practice of yoga, the moving with BREATH through a series of postures using focus (dhristi) and internal strength (bandhas). Linking the breath with movement (Vinyasa) you start to feel a strong connection with your inner self, you learn a lot about yourself in this way, not just your physical ease or limitations but how you approach them mentally.

The fourth limb, Pranayama, is also a physical practice and concerns breath control ‘exercises’ to help the mind start to settle and be calm.

These two limbs together then start to prepare us for the final four limbs, Pratyahara – Withdrawal of Senses – preparing yourself by drawing the focus inwards to prepare for Dharana – Focus and Concentration – preparing the mind for meditation, Dhyana, and then during much practice of Dhyana (meditation) you reach the final limb, Samadhi, or enlightenment, the ultimate goal of ‘yoga’

meditation, eight limbs, ashtanga

So you see, there is a lot more to it than balancing on our hands upside down. It goes a lot deeper than that. As a teacher my aims and objectives have now changed as I try to make people realise that no matter how ‘flexible’ they are, or are not, Ashtanga is not about the poses, the instalikes, the getting your head behind your neck, but ALL EIGHT LIMBS working together.

Anyone who can BREATH can learn this, the health benefits are an added bonus!

I’ll leave you with another quote from Pattabhi Jois which for me sums it all up:

“Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can
practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can
practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except
lazy people; lazy people can’t practice ashtanga yoga.”


Pattabhi Jois, Padmasana, Lotus, Meditation, Ashtanga

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Don’t be lazy people, start by making the moral observances, then the physical practice, wherever you are on it,  and start your journey on the eightfold path. Om shanti and don’t forget:

The light in me honours the light in you